They aren’t hard to find in our well-worn classics. From The Wind in the Willows, to The Cricket in Times Square, to the practically-perfect-in-every-way Charlotte’s Web, books with animal protagonists will never fail to delight their readers both young and old. And whether you prefer your tales told from the viewpoint of an oak tree (Wishtree) or robot (The Wild Robot), or even tales about talking soot golems (Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster), you can find most anything anthropomorphized in our favorite middle grade fantasies. But it’s the combination of a contemporary story with an animal protagonist that’s particularly tricky to find.
When I set out to write The Simple Art of Flying, a present-day book told largely from the perspective of a surly African grey, I’d feared it wouldn’t find a warm reception. But like with the following books, compelling characters and unusual voices, whether they come from persnickety parrots or wise old wolfhounds, have a hard time being ignored.
If you adore a non-human hero as much as I do, you might like:
The Poet’s Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan
Told in MacLachlan’s trademark sparse and lyrical style, this book about a grieving Irish wolfhound who stumbles across a pair of siblings lost in a snowstorm reads like a poem and will have you snuggling under the covers and smiling from beginning to end.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
It’s considered by many to be one of the greatest children’s novels ever written, and I add my vote with gusto. You never knew how much you wanted to be friends with a poignantly blunt gorilla, elephant, and stray dog. Applegate’s Wishtree is another favorite with similar appeal.
The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt
Not quite contemporary and not quite fantasy, this hauntingly poetic novel is harsh but true, and the setting amidst the Louisiana bayou’s red dirt and loblolly pines is breathtaking.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo
DiCamillo can do no wrong in my book. Everything she writes is a treasure, and this book about a girl and a super-squirrel is one of the delightful-romp-kind. Wild and wacky, I promise you’ll be shouting Holy bagumba! by book’s end.
Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Bob’s not technically an animal but he’s not a human either. He’s also not a zombie. (We think.) Bob does wear a chicken suit, however, and because his story was one of my favorite reads this year, I have to include it. Bob’s adorable voice is one I won’t soon forget, and this magical story about friendship is as fresh as it is fun.
The Simple Art of Flying is on B&N bookshelves February 12.